Points for Creativity: Student Suggests Paintballing Asteroids Until They Leave Us Alone

By Ashley P. Taylor | October 31, 2012 4:21 pm

asteroid Eros

To deflect an asteroid, paint it white. That’s the idea that made MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek the winner of the 2012 Move An Asteroid Competition, a contest set up by the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council that sought innovative ways to deflect asteroids. Paek’s plan is to hurl pellets of white paint at an asteroid in order to make it more reflective, meaning that more photons, or particles of light, would bounce off it, rather than being absorbed. Over time, the force of those photonic collisions, combined with the initial force of the paintballs, would be enough, Paek thinks, to move the asteroid off its path toward Earth.

Current ideas for avoiding asteroids include blasting them with nuclear bombs, fastening rockets to them, using the gravity of a nearby spacecraft to drag them off course, and driving spacecraft into them. The European Space Agency plans to test that last approach in the next few years with their Don Quixote project, in which a massive spacecraft will crash into an asteroid and another spacecraft would observe and record the damage. One of the potential targets is Apophis, a 27-gigaton asteroid on which Paek did his calculations for the paintball approach, scheduled to come near Earth in 2029 and in 2036.

Paek thinks it would take 20 years’ of solar pressure to change the asteroid’s course with his approach, so perhaps Don Quixote will do the work faster on its own. But we can at least fantasize about sending the Man of La Mancha out with paintballs.

Image of asteroid Eros via NASA/JPL/JHUAPL

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • kevin

    How about a dusting of fine zinc oxide powder across the surface?

  • Brian Too

    Although I can imagine some ways in which this might not work or be practical, at this stage of the game I’d just like to applaud Mr. Paek. This is truly imaginative!

    As a variation, how about wrapping the asterioid in something like mylar?

  • JD

    The problem can be solved by easing a rocket to the asteroid and drilling into it or some other attachment then propelling it away with the rocket.

  • m

    The paint idea has a great chance of succeeding. I’ve never considered something like that before.

    Clever boy – even old timer physics profs like me can learn something new.

  • Justin

    Isn’t that like trying to stop a freight train by blowing on it?

  • http://www.gioconomicon.net Cirunz

    http://what-if.xkcd.com/18/

    Btw, I thought laser ablation is also an option, but it’s not listed in the article

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